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For the Love of the Game Washington and Lee’s club squash team brings together players from all levels and has quickly risen the ranks in the collegiate competition circuit.

John-Williams-1-600x400 For the Love of the Game

“I knew that we had the potential to be a team not only in name but actually be competitive.”

~ John Williams ’25

Squash players number about 20 million people in over 185 countries. At least 20 of those players can be found here at Washington and Lee University, on the club squash team organized by John Williams ’25 during his sophomore year.

Williams has “always been a racquet sports person” and began playing squash when he was 10 years old. A popular sport in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, squash is played in either singles or doubles on a four-walled court, with a small and hollow rubber ball. It quickly became a favorite activity of Williams, and he played competitively throughout middle school and high school. During his first year at W&L, Williams realized he missed the experience of playing competitively and set out to establish a team on campus.

“I loved my freshman year at W&L, but I really missed not being on a competitive team because I wasn’t a varsity athlete,” said Williams, who is a business and history double major. “Having the chance to be on a club squash team seemed like the perfect opportunity for me because I got to be an athlete of a sport that I loved without the time commitment that would take away from my other interests on campus.”

Squash clubs have been active on campus for decades, but W&L had never had a formal team that was competitive at the intercollegiate level. Because of his experience with the sport, Williams was aware of an active club squash community in the country that he could tap into and reached out to the College Squash Association to get approval to form a team. He knew a few people on campus who had played the sport before, and W&L already had four squash courts, so he began organizing a co-ed team with the help of the university’s club sports department.

“I knew that we had the potential to be a team not only in name, but actually be competitive,” said Williams, who worked with Margaret McClintock, senior associate director of recreation, and Ben Schlief, associate director of recreation, to secure funding for a club squash team. The team came together from all corners of campus, with members representing each class, seven fraternities, three sororities and eight states.

In their first season, the W&L squash team played at three events, competing against schools along the East Coast, including Duke University, the University of North Carolina, Davidson College, George Washington University and the University of Virginia. In January 2023, the team hosted its first annual W&L Squash Invitational with Duke and UVA, beating both teams and finishing the season with a 4-4 record.

The team carried this momentum into their second season, opening with a 9-0 victory over the Naval Academy and qualifying for the U.S. Squash National Club Championship in Philadelphia this past February, where they went 2-1 and finished third in their division. In January, they hosted the second annual W&L Squash Invitational with the University of Richmond, Duke University and Johns Hopkins University, and received positive feedback from the teams’ coaches for how organized and efficient the event was. This is a point of pride for Williams, who remarked that a lot of schools with club squash teams might play a match or two for the first few seasons, but W&L has managed to make a splash on the collegiate squash scene in just two years. Collegiate squash is unique because club and varsity teams can play against each other, and W&L regularly competes against schools outside of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and NCAA Division III, allowing the team to represent the university in new spaces of athletic competition. Looking ahead, Williams hopes to keep growing the W&L Invitational, with the goal of organizing an eight-team bracket tournament. And he’s working on organizing a match next season with Fordham University, who would be the W&L team’s first varsity competitor.

“Our invitational has helped us get on the map, and not only are people recognizing us as just another team in college squash, but as a competitor and a force to be reckoned with,” Williams said. “The fact that we’ve been able to build this up and have strong competition and strong players in only two seasons is awesome.”

Squash-team-at-nationals-600x400 For the Love of the GameSquash team members at the U.S. Squash National Club Championship (l-r): Avery Meyer ’24, Robert Mish ’25, John Williams ’25, Will Fearey ’25, Hansen Ogden ’26, Henry Rich ’24, and Henry Ross ’27

Off the court, Williams and his teammates have figured out a rhythm to the administrative tasks, which include scheduling matches, ordering uniforms, making sure the courts are clean and promoting the team on social media. Jon Freeman, assistant men’s soccer coach at W&L, also became the squash team’s faculty adviser during this past season, and has witnessed growth in the program in a short time. Freeman helped with deciding which matches to play and scheduling transportation and worked with Williams  on next season’s budget and learning the ropes of team management.

“The team showed consistent improvement and hunger throughout the season, and they displayed quality and enthusiasm on the court and for the sport in general, which created a great atmosphere,” Freeman said. “Their strong showing at nationals showcased the team’s talent and generated a lot of buzz within the college squash circle and is something they should all be proud of. In club sports, it is important to have enthusiastic student leadership, and John has been fantastic. Without his behind-the-scenes attention to detail, a lot of what has transpired with the on-court success would not have happened.”

Williams is proud of the team’s successful first two seasons and is committed to making sure that even as the team improves, they prioritize building community and keeping it a great experience for the team members. “Making sure it’s a fun atmosphere is everything,” he said.

Williams appreciates that the less-demanding schedule of being on a club team allows him to pursue other activities on campus, creating a well-rounded college experience.

“I still have plenty of time for all my classes and can be part of other things on campus, and I think that really just makes your W&L experience better as a whole,” Williams said. “When I look back on my time on campus, I’m not going to think about just being part of this one thing but about all the different aspects of my experience and the friends I’ve made across campus, whether it be through classes, squash or my fraternity.”

Squash-WL-invitational-600x400 For the Love of the GameThe team hosted the second annual W&L Squash Invitational with the University of Richmond, Duke University and Johns Hopkins University.

Another benefit of playing club sports is the opportunity to grow as an athlete, regardless of your prior playing experience. Club sports offer a valuable space to learn a new sport or fine-tune your skills, and the squash team is a diverse mix of students who have played previously and students who never picked up a racket before W&L.

Robert Mish ’25 started playing squash when he was 10 years old and played on his high school’s varsity team before coming to W&L. He continued playing for fun during his first year on campus and began joining Williams and others who had formed an informal squash club. During his sophomore year, Williams and Blake Cilmi ’23 reorganized the group into an official club team, allowing students interested in the sport to be part of a team and compete against other universities.

“My favorite things about squash are the fitness and the fierce competition in the sport,” said Mish, who serves as the vice president of the team. “I missed the competitive culture of playing sports that I had growing up, and being on the club squash team and playing against other schools is a great way to be a part of a team where we all care about getting better and competing at a higher level.”

Ward Lilly ’26 didn’t start playing squash until he came to W&L, and he consulted a few YouTube tutorials before hitting the court for the first time. He began playing fairly frequently, and a friend recommended he check out the club team that had recently formed on campus. He ended up competing in his first tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the fall semester of his first year at W&L.

“I appreciate the team’s approach to our tournaments,” Lilly said. “The group is full of people who enjoy playing the game, [and] they continue to joke around with each other during tournaments and practices, which really makes the team feel inclusive.”

Some of Williams’ favorite memories will be the time spent with his teammates and developing relationships with people he might not have met otherwise.

“[One of the best parts] is developing that team atmosphere outside of the court,” Williams said. “Looking back, some of the most special moments that we have aren’t the matches themselves. It’s driving up in the van, hanging out with each other at the hotel or in the city. And that’s probably the thing I’m honestly most proud of. I can’t take full credit for it, but having all these people who are so different come together and become a team is special.”

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